By Matt Popchock
Will Mr. High School Sports let a little snow–okay, a lot of snow–spoil his fun? Certainly not! Since each of the upcoming Boys’ and Girls’ First Round games have been pushed back 24 hours, 93.7 The Fan’s high school sports reporter has that much extra time to hype up a full slate of games.
Before round two commences this weekend, there are some fascinating matchups taking place over the next two days that will decide who lives to fight on Friday and Saturday. So without further ado, here’s what’s coming to a court near you:
BOYS’ CLASS AAAA FIRST ROUND GAME TO WATCH:
#8 Moon (15-7) vs. #9 Butler (12-9) – Thursday, 8:00 PM @ North Allegheny
Between the Tigers’ inside game, and the Golden Tornado’s big men, led by senior forward Bobby Swartwout, this could end up resembling an NBA contest when all is said and done. This one might very well come down to how well Butler can protect the ball, and if they can contain Moon senior forward Aaron Johnson, the fourth-leading scorer in Quad-A at 24.3 points per game. If Moon wins, it sets up a possible Quarterfinal showdown with WPIAL champion Mount Lebanon, which only beat the Tigers by two last time.
BOYS’ CLASS AAA FIRST ROUND GAME TO WATCH:
#3 Blackhawk (15-7) vs. #14 Ringgold (16-7) – Thursday, 8:00 PM @ Moon
Mr. High School Sports is particularly interested to see how the Cougars, whom he sees as a dark horse in this tournament, will get by without freshman phenom Chandler Kincade. He suffered a lower-body injury, and there is speculation he might give up basketball to concentrate on football, so the pressure falls on senior guard Cory Ostach, who averages 17.2 points per game and can shoot from anywhere, and senior forward Tyler Damazo, who has good range as well. The Rams are coming off an emotional come-from-behind win against Keystone Oaks, and have a capable perimeter player of their own in senior guard Andrew Stine, who averages about 15 per game. But in order to earn the right to face either Greensburg-Salem or Hampton, Ringgold can’t afford another slow start against Blackhawk, a team that has played some clutch defense down the stretch.
BOYS’ CLASS AA FIRST ROUND GAME TO WATCH:
#8 Summit Academy (15-8) vs. #9 Shady Side Academy (15-6) – Thursday, 8:00 PM @ Northgate
The Indians are always a tough playoff opponent, and the Section 1 champions have continued to fight hard in the absence of leading scorer Cooper Handelsman. Junior guard Evan Lutins turned in a stellar 20-point performance in a Preliminary Round victory over Burgettstown. For the Section 2 co-champion Knights, on the other hand–who won a section crown for the first time in program history–this is less familiar territory. Sophomore two-guard Ronald Smith, who led Summit with 16 points in its Preliminary Round win over Charleroi, has evolved into quite the team leader, but can this offense handle a more seasoned and defensively savvy opponent? The winner will likely face Greensburg C.C., which takes on the cardiac kids from Carlynton, in the Quarterfinals.
BOYS’ CLASS A FIRST ROUND GAME TO WATCH:
#8 Cornell (14-7) vs. #9 Clairton (8-10) – Wednesday, 8:00 PM @ Keystone Oaks
It’s only fitting these two meet for the probable right to face top seed Rochester a year after a smaller Cornell team surprised a physically imposing Clairton squad in the Quarterfinals, and right now the Bears have reason to be confident about their chances for revenge. They hammered Serra Catholic before the end of the regular season in the midst of a hot streak, and we all know the postseason is about peaking at the right time. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the Raiders, who have faltered a bit down the stretch, and the fact that B.J. Lipke has transferred to Lincoln Park will make handling senior forward Desimon Green that much more difficult. Still, Cornell has a proven clutch player in junior Dustin Goins, who sunk the Bears last year, and playoff success can often boil down to guard play.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAAA FIRST ROUND GAME TO WATCH:
#8 Gateway (14-8) vs. #9 Kiski Area (19-3) – Wednesday, 6:30 PM @ Franklin Regional
What an incredible ride it has already been for the Gators, who didn’t win a single section game in 2009-10. Now that Gateway has won the Section 2 crown, it has to worry about shutting down sophomore forward Maddie Antone, one of the top ten scorers in Quad-A at 15 points per game, who leads a Kiski offense that may try to turn this game into a shootout. The best way to remedy that is to play a solid half-court game, and that’s not too much to ask from a Gateway squad that has made positive strides on defense. Another big night from junior forward Anna Coutsoumbis wouldn’t hurt either if the Gators wish to earn a probable Quarterfinal date with Shaler.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAA FIRST ROUND GAME TO WATCH:
#5 Blackhawk (17-5) vs. #12 Thomas Jefferson (15-8) – Thursday, 6:30 PM @ North Hills
TJ barely had to break a sweat to knock off Valley in the Preliminary Round, and now comes the real test for the Jaguars: can they be more than a one-woman team? Senior center Ashley Stoner, the No. 4 regular season scorer in the WPIAL at 20.3 points per game, picked up right where she left off with 29 against the Vikings, but to get past one of the most sound girls’ programs in Class AAA, she may need the kind of offensive help from her supporting cast she isn’t used to getting. That’s because, from senior guard Alexa Hayward, who leads the Cougars with 15.2 points per game, to sophomore forward Alexis Graham, Blackhawk has one of the most productive offenses in Class AAA, which should test the great stubbornness of TJ’s defense. The winner takes on either Chartiers Valley or Mount Pleasant.
GIRLS’ CLASS AA FIRST ROUND GAME TO WATCH:
#5 Avonworth (19-3) vs. #12 Keystone Oaks (16-7) – Wednesday, 6:30 PM @ Northgate
It’s been quite a turnaround for the girls’ program at KO, and leading the way has been Alexa Xenakis, one of the premier girls’ athletes in the WPIAL. The junior guard led the Golden Eagles with 17.8 points per game during the regular campaign, and again she strapped the team to her back in the Preliminary Round against New Brighton by draining 25 points. Now she faces Catherine Costa, who has two sisters who are members of Avonworth’s 1,000-career-point club, like herself, and therefore, probably feels she has a lot to live up to. The real story is how well Costa, who also averages 17.8 per game, and her teammates can continue to defend. Avonworth has the top-ranked defense in WPIAL girls’ basketball–the only team to allow under 30 points per game–and the Eagles need to rise above it if they wish to face either Bishop Canevin or Neshannock in the Quarterfinals.
GIRLS’ CLASS A FIRST ROUND GAME TO WATCH:
#8 Rochester (15-6) vs. #9 Riverview (11-10) – Thursday, 6:30 PM @ Northgate
In all probability, the winner of this contest will play defending Class A champion and top seed Vincentian Academy, and in order to get there, the Raiders need to find their identity, and fast; they are the only team in the WPIAL that has scored exactly as many points as it has allowed. But Riverview does have a star to follow in junior guard Mary Andrejko, Class A’s second-leading scorer at 18.2 points per game. She’ll have to find a way to break through one of the toughest defenses in Class A, though, and the Rams are willing to grind it out by putting the ball in the hands of senior forward Hayden Kimbrough, who averages 15.5 per game. Rochester-Vincentian would be a rematch of last year’s Quarterfinals.
For continuing coverage of the WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports later this week!